A Sentimental Education Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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The Painting of Rosanette
When Frederic is courting Rosanette, he suggests his friend Pellerin complete a portrait of her. Monsieur Arneux, who was then engaging in an affair with Rosanette, also endorses the idea and suggests that he will pay for it as a present to her. When the portrait is finally completed, after a long ordeal, Arnoux refuses to pay. Frederic despises the painting, and his refusal to pay deeply damages his friendship with Pellerin. The portrait is symbolic of how Frederic views Rosanette; he is interested in the image of her but as he discovers, he despises her character. Furtermore, the portrait is also indicative of Arnoux's lack of commitment and abusive treatment of friends, for by reneging on payment of the painting he thrusts the bill onto Frederic.
The Turkish Bath
At the end of the novel, Deslauriers and Frederic are reminiscing about their youth. They begin to talk about a Turkish Bath, a brothel in other words, that was under the bridge in their hometown of Nogent. One day, they intend to lose their virginity and after picking flowers from Frederic's garden, they walk to the brothel. Seeing the flowers, the women laugh and shoo the boys away. Frederic and Deslauriers conclude that this experience "was the best time we ever had." The experience, as well as their admitted enjoyment of it, further speaks towards the way they view women and sexuality. This foundational experience was rooted in the concept of paying for sex, and further influences the way they both treat women throughout the novel.
The Lock of Hair
When Madame Arnoux comes to Frederic to finally repay her debt, he is shocked by how much she's aged. Nearly twenty years after they first met, her hair has grown grey. After talking about their failed love, she admits that she wishes they had been together but that it was not possible. She says she is leaving and that he will never see her again, she then cuts off a lock of her hair for him to keep. This lock, greyed, is symbolic of Frederic's failure to secure happiness with Madame Arnoux. After all the ordeals he went through, he was left with only a snippet of her aged hair.
After Cisy mocks Madame Arnoux at a formal dinner, Frederic attacks him. Refusing to apologize, they agree to a duel to solve the matter. After much deliberation, they agree to fight with swords. The approach to the duel is filled with fear and uncertainty. Finally when they have just begun the duel, Arnoux runs in and stops them and no winner is declared. The failed duel is symbolic of Frederic inability to follow anything through to completion, be it his academic projects or his love affairs. It is also symbolic of Arnoux's intervention, or meddling, in all of Frederic's ventures.
The horse-drawn carriage holds a peculiar place in Sentimental Education. It is the luxury that is first acquired each time Frederic finds his way into money, and it is also the first luxury he abandons when he loses money. He often fantasizes about having a carriage to take him all over town and to jockey him between his affairs. In this sense, the carriage is symbolic of the mobility and comfort that Frederic enjoys. This mobility is an entrenched symbol of social status, for Frederic remarks when those around him do not have carriages. It is also a symbol of privacy, for it is in the back of carriages where Frederic entertains romantic company.
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